Personnel Improvement Center
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Therapeutic Recreation Specialist

Therapeutic recreation specialists use sports, games, arts and crafts, music, dance, drama, sightseeing excursions and non-traditional recreation activities to improve or maintain the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of students who receive special education services. Therapeutic recreation specialists have special training and earned credentials that assist children with disabilities to benefit from education and improve the quality of life, increase independent function, and thus improve their quality of life.

Nature of Work:

  • Determine the nature and impact of a student's disability to determine goals and planning for lessons or activities
  • Consults regularly with classroom teachers and health and special education professionals
  • Acts as a resource to staff about devices and equipment for students with disabilities
  • Assists students in after school activities that assist them in acquiring new skills or talents

Education Required:

  • A bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation or recreation with an option in therapeutic recreation is the standard requirement for most jobs. A master's degree and doctoral degree are also available in this profession.
  • Most employees require therapeutic recreation specialists to be certified.
  • The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCRTC) has been the nationally recognized organization to certify therapeutic recreation specialists.

Personal Qualities:

  • Therapeutic recreation specialists in schools are optimistic and patient and enjoy working with students of all ages who have various disabilities. They work well independently but are also good team players with other health care professionals. Therapeutic recreation specialists have excellent observation skills, are creative in adapting activities for their students, and can persuade a reluctant student to join an activity. They also possess good communication and record keeping skills.

Job Outlook and Advancement:

  • According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and National Therapeutic Recreation Society (NTRS), there are thirty thousand therapeutic recreation specialists who currently hold jobs in the United States. Employment is expected to continue to rise through 2005. Persons with advanced degrees are eligible for positions as program directors, supervisors, and college teachers.

How to Prepare for a Career:

  • Find out if your school system employs a therapeutic recreation specialist. If yes, ask to talk to the specialist about his or her job. Special education teachers in your school can direct you to resources and organizations about this profession or they might have a personal contact with someone who is employed as a therapeutic recreation specialist. High school students interested in this career should take classes in English, science, physical education, art, music, and drama.

Resource Information:

American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA)
1414 Prince St. Suite 204
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone (703) 683-9420
Fax (703) 683-9431

National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC)
7 Elmwood Drive
New City, NY 10956
Phone(914) 639-1439

National Therapeutic Recreation Society (NTRS)
22377 Belmont Ridge
Ashburn, VA 20148
Phone (703) 858-0784
Fax (703) 858-0794


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The National Center to Improve the Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Personnel for Children with Disabilities (Personnel Improvement Center). A Cooperative Agreement, H325C080001, between the US Department of Education and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Project Officer: Maryann McDermott
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NASDSE | 225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 420, Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone 703.519.3800 | Fax 703.519.3808
NASDSE